A Response to Dr. Steve Lemke’s Presentation on Irresistible Grace, Part 2. “Jesus’ Teaching Pattern.”
Whether generalized or personalized, Jesus’ teaching pattern seems to be inconsistent with irresistible grace, particularly in his lament over Jerusalem, Lemke said.
In Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34, where Jesus longed to gather his people as a hen gathers her chicks, Lemke said the Greek verb “to will” has an even sharper contrast, so Jesus is saying, “I willed but you were not willing.”
In both examples, Lemke said, it is not just the current generation that is being addressed but many generations.
a. Jesus is not teaching against irresistible grace in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34
In reference to the particular passages that he cites- Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34, which are parallel passages- it must be noted that Jesus is not indicating that His desire to bring eternal salvation to a particular group of people is one that may be frustrated by their sinful unwillingness; instead, these passages in context speak of the sin for which the leaders of Israel will receive judgment. [The following section- to the conclusion of point “a.” is from the website The Objective Gospel, on which is found an exegesis of Matthew 23:37 based on the work of Reformed Baptist apologist James White.]
ESVMatthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
This is a verse used to demonstrate the ability of man to resist God and of God’s desire to save being thwarted by the free will of man. Is that what this Scripture demonstrates? I believe yes, and no.
First, yes–fallen man can and does resist God at almost every turn. It is only a misunderstanding of Irresistible Grace (Effectual Calling) that would cause someone to think that Calvinists don’t believe in man’s ability (and propensity) to resist God. Effectual calling refers to God’s sovereign regeneration of his elect.
Whenever you want to know what a Scripture is teaching, you need to put it in its context. This verse is found in the same context with these:
ESVMatthew 23 1″Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you- but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice…
13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides…
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…
27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…
29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!…
33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!
As you can see, this passage comes in the context of a fierce rebuke of the religious leaders of the Jews. Note who the pronoun “you” refers to in verses 33-35 where the killers of the prophets are described. We see the killers of the prophets (Jerusalem) being lamented over. One would be hard pressed to make “Jerusalem, the city … your … you” be anyone other than the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus has been rebuking.
Now let’s look more closely at who was resisting and who was to be gathered. Do you see it? Here Jesus laments that the religious leaders were resisting him in his drawing of their children.
To sum up, we have a verse where the religious leaders are being lamented (after the sharpest rebuke Jesus gave anywhere) over their resistance (something no Calvinist would deny) to God’s drawing of the children of Israel.
Matthew 23 is perfectly consistent with reformed theology.
b. Jesus teaches irresistible grace in John 6
Not only does Jesus not teach against irresistible grace in the Bible passages cited by Dr. Lemke, but there are passages in which Jesus teaches the doctrine sometimes referred to as “irresistible grace;” the chief of these passages (in terms of focus upon relevant subjects) is the latter part of John 6. I would commend all of John 6 to anyone reading this post for careful study, and there are more verses at the end of John 6 that have bearing upon this subject matter, but for the sake of space I would like to focus our attention on John 6:37-40-
37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” (NASB)
To narrow the focus even further, I ask readers to again consider John 6:37-
“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who come to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 [NASB])
How does this verse (and those in its context at the end of John 6) teach irresistible grace? James White explains in the book Debating Calvinism:
Each word [in John 6:37] is vital. Jesus begins where Christian salvation begins (and ends!), with the Father. The Father gives a particular people to the Son. Why do I say a particular people? Because Jesus says all of them will come to Him. We know that not all people come to Him; hence this is a distinct group that does not embrace all mankind. The divine and sovereign act of giving on the part of the Father results in an action on the part of those given: They unfailingly come to Christ All who are given come. Not some, not most, but all. How can this be if, in fact, the coming is conditional upon human effort, desire, or choice? Obviously, it isn’t. The giving of the Father is a sovereign and divine act that guarantees, beyond all question or doubt, the eventual coming of the individual person to Christ in saving faith. All come, because coming to faith in Christ is not the result of an autonomous human decision. Instead, as the Bible teaches, saving faith is a gift from God, given to His elect people, and when God in grace removes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh, making a person a new creature in Christ, that person will, without fail, cling to Jesus Christ and to Him alone.
In must be emphasized that in Jesus’ teaching, the giving precedes and determines the coming. Jesus does not teach that all those that the Father somehow “foresees” will come to Christ are given, but that all who are given come as a result. The divine order is clear: The Father sovereignly gives a people to the Son, and as a result of that giving, they come. Men may try to turn the order around, but the text of Scripture simply does not allow it. (118-119)
This work of the Father in giving a particular people to the Son in such a way that they will assuredly come to Christ and certainly not be cast out by Him is exactly what the Calvinist means with the term, “irresistible grace.”